Friday, July 16, 2010

It's never too late to change direction

A discussion about "helicopter parents" and their children over at Historiann's place has taken an interesting turn; namely, the question of whether we professors aren't overreacting, and perhaps projecting our own atypical approach to education and college life onto our students.

And yes, I was one of the ones whose immediate reaction was to do just that, from atop a rather tall equine.

And then a couple of commenters went even further, reminding us that a magic "adult" switch doesn't flip on when a student turns 18, or registers for their first class. And it hit me that I've become a bit too cynical. So I'm reprinting my comment here, since it's something that I'm now going to do some thinking about:

I’m really enjoying reading these comments, especially Emily’s, and now Leslie’s, both of which are reminding me that adulthood isn’t an instantaneous process, and there’s a big difference between a student (especially a first- or second-year student) who contacts parents frequently for advice or searching for validation, and a student or parent who expects that the parent will always run interference, absolving said student of any responsibility for his/her actions, and preventing hir from growing up.

Here’s where I’ll take my stand, at least for the moment: from the outside (that is, from a professor’s point of view), it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the two, since we only see part of the picture. And since a few bad encounters (“my dad’s a lawyer!”) tend to make us a bit cynical, we assume the worst when confronted with partial evidence.

I’m therefore going to try to do a reversal on my own reactions, and try to assume that a student is the former type, unless they’re proven to be the latter. This will be a trial run.

I really do think I've become too cynical in my approach to teaching, assuming that, without a whole bag of carrots and sticks, my students will not read, or care, or do anything but take shortcuts. But I never wanted to be that professor, and I still don't. I don't need to turn into a Pollyanna to admit that it's time for a change in my own approach.

I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: Emily posts in the comments about a post that Tenured Radical wrote a while back about developing a less cynical approach, and it's definitely worth a read, so I'm linking to it here.


NNR said...

Oh, I'm glad you clarified. Because I totally was calling you "Polyanna" mentally all this time. :)

(different) Emily B said...

I really appreciate this post, and I want to think about it in my own pedagogy! It also (tangentially) reminded me of one of Tenured Radical's posts in which she wrote about developing a less cynical attitude toward students, a post that has really stuck with me:

FrauTech said...

I guess I always assumed students would not do the required work without carrots and sticks. But I think that's different from assuming they aren't independent at all or that it's particular to this generation. Or that more involved parents makes them less as people. Still, I am with you on hoping to be less cynical and working on giving people the benefit of the doubt more often. That can never be a bad thing.

Amstr said...

I read What the Best College Teachers Do last year and was inspired to reconsider many of my more jaded teaching strategies:

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Amstr, I'll check it out. I know no one's approach works for everyone, but I'm interested in ideas.

NNR: of course you were.

And the rest of you: I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one trying to retool.

Susan said...

Notorious, I wonder if the state of the profession isn't one thing that contributes to cynicism, tiredness, etc. And that requires reconnecting with teaching.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hi Susan!

You're right, of course: it's hard to talk yourself into doing more when your work is being valued less. But my sabbatical semester has pulled me out of the fray enough so I can actually think about approaching teaching again with a fresh perspective.

That alone ought to be an argument for sabbaticals.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

The medical and graduate students I teach in the classroom are so highly motivated to master the material, that I have never had to deal with this. But it seems to me that it would take all the fun out of teaching if you have to play a carrot-and-stick game.